The joy of LAN parties in Days of Yore.
After making several trips to the car all the requisite parts are inside the house and, confidently declaring how much fun we are about to enjoy, we would assemble the network.
I'm sure that whoever came up with the idea of a computer network meant well and, his shining prostelysing carried each assurance of technological advancement to greater heights in the swirling mind of his research supervisor, but there is a world of difference between a neatly drawn diagram of a network all thrumming with elegant promise and the reality.
Don't get me wrong, setting up a network is a three step process - it's just that step two includes 387 incredibly hellishly frustrating ministeps.
Step 1 is to plug everything in. And that is relatively easy to achieve once various players have been cursed for not having colour coded plugs and sockets. The funiture will have to be rearranged because you find you have forty three 2metre-long Cat5 cables and only one longer cable which is so long it starts in a large coil in the middle of the floor and gradually unravels to tie each chair to a person and the chairs to other furniture, such that it is actually a good way of finding furniture you never knew you had.
'A coffee table?! Since when have I had a coffee table?' you muse aloud.
'We could have used that, you dickhead!' comes the inevitable protest.
'Where is this coffee table?'
'Right here, tied to my chair.'
Fred can't see because of the ottoman blocking the view, and anyway the hatstand tied to his monitor prevents him from moving out of the position of a hunchback. He stands up and pulls on various loops of cable, one of which starts strangling James whose flailing topples a lampshade and pulls out a cable that we don't discover for forty minutes.
Adrian falls over the coffee table, strangling James further.
'Nice table!' he exclaims.
Now that the room looks like some high-tech shipwreck and everybody has got on everyone else's nerves you are ready to begin Step2.
Step 2 is started by the player whose computer is acting as the server. He creates a network, names it and waits for each computer to join it. This is the process by which each computer works out that it can talk to every other computer. Since all the computers are crowded around the one table where each person has a space the size of an iced vovo in which to move their mouse, this should be easy.
It is not.
You've played that game 'Marco Polo' in someone's pool as a kid?
It is an uncanny analog.
The server start calls out 'Marco!' and instantly nothing happens.
You are now ready to run through ministeps 2.1 through to 2.387.
I won't go into all the details but this is where you discover that machines *do* have personalities. Some of the computers refuse to say 'Polo' out of truculence like a fat woman eating chocolate with her eyes closed claiming calories only count if you see them; some blame the others for not being in the same pool as themselves; some of them carry on like a deranged elderly relative looking for the spectacles they are wearing; and one is French.
'Ou ay le network?'
'Kes cou se?'
'Terribly sorry, old bean! Had a bit of bother with the old radgema-thingy. How nice to see you. Where is everyone else? Oh, I mean: Polo!'
By 2.133 you will be merrily deleting each other's modem drivers in a misguided search for incompatibilities.
2.201 will have you discover James' disconnected cable.
And 2.344 is to burn Bill Gates in effigy.
Step 3 is actually being able to play the game, but this isn't what I wanted to talk about at all.
I wanted to talk about graphic cards.
Quite by chance I had second-row seats to the introduction of 3D accelerators into the market. I was working at a computer parts importer from the start of 1998 and saw each stage of development come through in much the same way as the series of silhouettes from a chimp-like ape through various 'pithecuses to Homo and ultimately sapiens sapiens. 'Well that was worth all the effort: now I have a suit!'
It is a shock to think that *anything* I was involved in was ten years ago. After all, I am a disturbingly handsome and charming man, and I don't need reminding that sooner than I think I will be a roguish silver-fox with the certain twinkle in my eye that appeals to young ladies with father issues - but there you have it.
Back in 1998 we were selling 2D graphics cards with S3 chipsets and 2MB of RAM. We also had ViRGE and Rage 3D cards and they had, gasp, 8MB of RAM. That's not to say that gaming didn't exist, it did, but though you could easily spend $1500 on a truly astounding graphic card from a manufacturer hidden in an obscure valley in Taiwan and staffed by techno-warrior-monks infused with strange wisdom, there wasn't anything towards the budget end.
Then along came 3dfx Voodoo2.
Released back in 1996 Voodoo1 was the first 3D accelator add-on card and was the humble 'small step'. The Voodoo2 was the giant leap. It plugged into a PCI slot and lent its monstrous 16MB of RAM to your 4MB (or even 8MB) graphics card to turn your Ford Laser into a Ford Falcon!!
Yes, the introduction of the AGP slot was a revelation of a promising future for gaming. Its very name of Accelerated Graphics Port said it all, but Voodoo2... well, Voodoo2 made you change your pants because it was the chip that really made 3D gaming possible and allowed us to WASTE OUR LIVES!!
But the marvels of those days weren't over yet. FatboySlim exploded on the scene and changed Music As We Know It. And then that a bunch of techno-warrior-monks called Nvidia released the RIVA TNT2 graphics card.
Sweet Mother of the All Holy 32MB of RAM!
But, His Eternal Benevolence, Lord Nvidia wasn't done yet, for he so loved the world.He gave us the Geforce AGP card with its Graphics Processing Unit.
...Oh, I well up to think back on those days, their names familiar in my mouth as household words - Harry the Gamer, Geforce and Nvidia, Voodoo and Radeon - be in my mug of cold tea freshly remembered!
But even this history is not what I wanted to talk about.
Names! The eye-popping names!
They knew how to name cards back then: Voodoo 2, Mystique, Banshee, TNT, Rage.
Big powerful dangerous names that had gamers licking their lips in anticipation of the virtual horror they would be able to unleash!
But perhaps the biggest horror unleashed on the world was the marketing that went with it.
Now computers were all about gaming, and gaming was all about power and the next tiny tweak to get an extra 5% performance over someone else's card.
So, it did get a bit out of control.
(The marketing team are presenting their latest graphics card pitch to the CEO. A,B,C are marketing dudes.)
CEO: (reading) The Total Bastard 3. So this card is baaad?
B: No. It's Evil.
CEO: (dubiously) How evil?
A: (with relish) This card is so Evil it will fuck you in the ass!
(CEO looks suspiciously at his marketing team)
CEO: Come again? This card will fuck me...
A/B/C: IN THE ASS!!!
B: See, we write that here on the box.
CEO: We're not going to represent it in graphic form?
B: Well, no.
C: It would take away from the graphic of the warrior decapitating the alien.
A: I suppose we could have the warrior decapitating _one_ alien, while fucking another alien up the ass.
(They mentally invisage it and glance quickly between the box and each other. They all shake their heads.)
B: Too busy!
C: Yeah, yeah. Too busy.
A: Yeah, you're right.
(CEO pinches bridge of nose. He hates the marketing department.)